Northampton charter changes — lower voting age, noncitizens voting — in council’s hands

  • Northampton City Hall, 2019. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 12/7/2019 1:52:28 PM

NORTHAMPTON — After months of work on the document at the heart of city government, the Charter Review Committee has presented its report to the City Council.

However, the council that will decide whether or not to adopt the recommendations of the committee will not be the same council that heard the committee’s presentation Thursday. In the new year, the City Council will turn over, and that body, complete with five new members, will decide which of the committee’s recommendations to endorse, if any.

“I expect the next council will look at it very seriously,” said City Council President Ryan O’Donnell. “Perhaps they will not accept all the recommendations.”

Among the changes to the charter that the committee is recommending:

■Lowering the voting age in municipal elections to 16.

■Allowing noncitizens to vote in municipal elections.

■Making the City Clerk position an appointed role rather than an elected one.

■Adopting ranked-choice voting in municipal elections. 

For changes to the charter to be adopted, both the mayor and the council will have to sign off them, after which they would be submitted to the Legislature for approval.

If they win approval at that level, the changes would have to be approved by citywide vote.

As a result of the charter’s last revision in 2012, a committee must be formed in every year that ends in a nine to review the charter.

All nine members of the committee were present at Thursday’s council meeting.

The Charter Review Committee will dissolve at the end of this year. However, Charter Review Committee Chairman Stanley Moulton made it clear that members will be available to answer questions from the new council.

In the presentation, Moulton noted that the report was approved unanimously and that this was not unusual for the committee: Nearly every vote it has taken has been unanimous, with the occasional abstention.

The committee has held 19 public meetings, Moulton said.

There are issues not included in the charter recommendations that the committee feels are worthy of further study, he said. These topics, included at the end of the committee’s summary of recommendations, involve access to elections via printing ballots in languages other than English, improving voters’ access to information about city government, and how city government might better reach out to and increase representation from underrepresented communities.

“We hope that the council, the mayor and other city officials continue to consider those issues,” Moulton said.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.


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